By John Schmeelk
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The most telling move the Knicks made Monday was not firing Mike Woodson. That was inevitable. It was firing Herb Williams.
Williams had been with the Knicks as an assistant coach since 2003 and had survived the cleaning out of every single coaching regime since.
But he did not survive this one.
Williams is a nice man, and will no doubt be given another role within the organization if he can’t find another assistant coaching job elsewhere, but the mere fact that owner James Dolan forced him to clean out his locker is a huge signal he is truly relinquishing control.
It is sad that firing someone like Williams is the tell-tale sign that Phil Jackson has true autonomy, but for the Knicks it means just that. Even more apparent than when Donnie Walsh was brought aboard, Phil Jackson has free reign to do what he likes with the Knicks, and what you saw Monday won’t be the last time he exercises that power.
The quote from Jackson that accompanied the Knicks’ announcement of Woodson’s firing was very telling: “… the time has come for change throughout the franchise as we start the journey to assess and build this team for next season and beyond.”
In other words, Jackson is probably going to change more than just the coach. Jackson thought long and hard about the Knicks job and it appears more and more likely to me that he is going to surround himself with his own people to get this job done right. That doesn’t mean other Dolan favorites like Steve Mills, Allan Houston and Mark Warkentien will be fired, but it will probably mean they will be at the very least pushed aside so Jackson can run basketball operations with people he trusts. Clarence Gaines Jr, a personnel guy from the Bulls, has already been added to the Knicks’ front office, according to reports, and there is little doubt others will follow.
This is going to be Jackson’s ship, and he is not going to sail it with another man’s crew. He is going to surround himself with his own people, and move Dolan’s people so far outside of his inner circle that even if the owner wants to meddle, he will find it extremely difficult to do so.
This strategy can work, but only if Jackson wins. He will have a grace period of a season or two, but if the team isn’t seriously competing for a title by 2016, it would shock no one if Dolan strong-armed himself back into the Knicks’ decision-making hierarchy.
This is why, despite stories to the contrary, Steve Kerr will be the Knicks’ head coach if he is in fact Jackson’s first choice. Kerr should have legitimate questions regarding the Knicks’ culture and the political machinations at Madison Square Garden, but how Jackson exercises his power should allay those fears. If Kerr is in fact the Knicks’ first choice and Jackson offers him the job in the next week, it would be hard to believe Kerr would say no on the off chance he could get the opportunity to coach the Golden State Warriors if they get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. It’s not as if Kerr is someone teams are lining up to make their new coach. It would take a lot of guts, and real bravado to turn down an NBA head coaching position (that also pays extremely well) for another job that might not even open up.
In other words, if the Knicks want Kerr, he is going to take the job. All these rumors about his hesitation are probably nothing more than a bargaining chip to get the Knicks to offer more money, something they are never hesitant to do. But do the Knicks want Kerr?
Various reports have revealed other names, including impressive, system-oriented guys like Fred Hoiberg and Kevin Ollie, but history suggests college coaches don’t necessarily have success in the NBA.
The most important thing Knicks fans should know is that the choice will be Jackson’s and no one else’s.
Follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk for everything Knicks and Giants
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